KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) – The controversy that surrounded the crash-filled race at Talladega last weekend made its way to Kansas Speedway, where what exactly should be done about restrictor-plate racing remained the topic du jour.
Perhaps that’s because Kansas tends to be a bit more predictable.
Sure, the mile-and-a-half oval has been repaved in recent years. The newer low-downforce package will be making its debut there this weekend. Tire construction and compound always plays a role on Saturday night.
But it’s still Kansas, and that means Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick will be fast, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth will be in contention, and Kyle Busch will probably have a car good enough to win before some sort of bad luck reaches up and grabs the No. 18 over the course of 400 miles.
Also predictable? Carl Edwards would give just about anything to reach victory lane.
The native of Columbia, Missouri, considers Kansas Speedway his home track, yet Edwards has never won here in a Sprint Cup race. His best result was second in 2008, despite finishing every race he’s started, and he’s led laps on 11 occasions with six top-five results.
“This would be as big as the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard 400 for me, and we have a team to do it,” said Edwards, who has already won this season at Bristol and Richmond. “I feel like I have a lot of support here.”
He vividly remembers the Truck series race in 2004, when he held off Bobby Hamilton to win.
“That truck win here was so spectacular,” Edwards said, breaking into a wide grin. “That’s the only time I’ve ever heard the crowd roaring before I shut off the engine.”
Those happy memories turn far more somber when Edwards reflects on last weekend’s wild race at Talladega, where a series of accidents involved 35 cars in some fashion. Several caught air, Chris Buescher was sent cartwheeling down a straightaway and Danica Patrick had one of the hardest hits of her career.
While some drivers, including race winner Brad Keselowski, have chosen to embrace the unpredictable carnage that comes with superspeedways, other drivers have questioned the safety of such spectacles.
“There’s so many variables that make Talladega what it is, and I don’t know. I don’t know what to do,” Edwards said. “At some point, that many wrecks and that much risk, you’re obligated to do something about it. I drove by Buescher flipping down the back straightaway, and he was flipping the whole time, and I thought, `Man, I hope nobody hits him.’ Those are risky situations and they happen an awful lot at that track.”
AJ Allmendinger was involved in one of the pileups and felt sore for days afterward, even though he still managed to finish 14th and picked up some ground in the points standings.
“You know the risks when you get into a race car,” Allmendinger said. “We saw a lot of big hits last week and fortunately all the drivers were out and OK. It’s not a lot of fun when you have to go through it.”
The cookie-cutter nature of Kansas Speedway gives drivers a bit of a reprieve this weekend.
The repave that made it harder to pass a few years ago has been given time to weather, and that’s created a racing surface with multiple grooves. And the new rules package designed to encourage passing has been used to great success elsewhere, giving teams an idea of what to expect this weekend.
“The rules package to me has been a home run,” said Jamie McMurray, whose Joe Gibbs Racing team has been arguably the best at adapting to it. “The difference on the track, when you get behind guys you still struggle, but it’s nothing like last year. You’re able to work someone over and pass them.”
There are other story lines this weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Tony Stewart gave up his seat to Ty Dillon after the first caution at Talladega to protect his back, which he hurt in an off-road accident in January. Stewart is back in the No. 14 fulltime beginning this weekend, and the former Kansas winner will spend the rest of the season trying to race his way into the Chase.
Johnson will be trying to defend his spring win at Kansas a year ago and break a tie with Jeff Gordon for most wins at the track with his fourth, while Keselowski will be trying to build on his victory a week ago by taming Kansas for the second time in his career.
“My teammate Joey Logano has been good here, so we’ve been looking at them and saying, `Hey, let’s try some things here,”’ Keselowski said. “Looking forward to what we have in the race because it seems like every year we come here, practice and qualifying is not a good indication of the race.”
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)